Glimpses of damnation and salvation.

1973 was a year of massive shocks for me and mine. What I am going to write here is very difficult. If any family member does not wish to read on I would most surely understand. (This is not to say that I've engaged in any blog-associated family correspondence but I am aware that it is being read, at least by some.)

Those who have followed this bio-blog from the beginning will remember that, in 1957, Joan had become temporarily, inexplicably blind. She was given many tests at Cambridge's prestigious Addenbrooke hospital but whilst there her sight had - equally inexplicably - returned in full. As I say, the medical staff had no explanation, or so they told us, so she left hospital and we carried on with our lives, forgetting all about it. In addition to Karen, as the years rolled by and our prosperity increased.we brought Julie, Robert and Stuart to join us in our mostly happy little world.

However, even before moving south from Lancashire I had known that something was becoming really amiss. There was - at times but not all the time - an unpredictability about Joan's behavior. For instance, one night I arrived home quite late to find all the children fast asleep but no sign of her. I had the bedroom telephone in my hand to call police, hospitals etc when she burst out of the wardrobe, quite frighteningly wild-eyed. And then, soon after the move to Lee she started to walk with a slight limp - again, for no apparent reason and without any kind of pain. After many visits to our local doctor Joan was referred to Southampton General. I should have known that some kind of a bombshell was about to burst over her, over me and over our whole family life, for she had been referred to the neurology department. A quarter of an hour after walking into the consultant's office we walked out in a stunned silence, knowing now that her problem was MS (multiple schlerosis); that it had been diagnosed or at least suspected back in Addenbrookes and that there was no cure as such. It would, said the consultant, possibly / probably regress in irregular stages through the need for a walking frame then a wheelchair and then ... nobody could tell.

Our discussion in the car whilst driving home was strangely calm and collected, at least from Joan's side. All she wanted to talk about was how difficult and then unbearable would or could become the lives of our children. They were at the time aged about seventeen, (Karen) fourteen, (Julie) eleven (Robert) and eight (Stuart). She asked me to stop the car somewhere. I did so. Again and again she insisted I make her a solemn promise to the effect that, if and when her illness reached a certain stage I would help her to terminate things. I made her that promise, refusing to believe that such a stage could or would ever be reached. (An ostrich with head in sand comes now to mind. And when that time came I did not / could not keep my promise. Joan never truly forgave me for that.)


But as they say, what cannot be cured must be endured, and that is what we tried our best to do; with as much good grace and making as few concessions to MS as we possibly could. Of course Joan had to give up her thoughts of gainful employment. Soon enough she would need the help of a walking frame. At least on the surface our daughters and sons took the situation in their stride but I was of course never to know what actually went on deep down. As for me, on the one hand to all appearances to the outside world I seemed to 'have it made' but on the other I knew how finely balanced was our wellbeing. I had all the usual indebtedness to service and although I was earning a top salary everything would collapse should I lose my job - or be forced to give up work altogether in order to look after my wife, our family and our home. This had to be a real possibility when the MS reached a point where, in effect, twenty four hour nursing would become essential.

We (Sweetheart International) had invited our local Member of Parliament Peter Viggers, (yes, he of the duckhouse fiasco!) to join the Board in a non-executive capacity. I spoke to Viggers in private, asking if there was any system of financial support or live-in nursing for cases such as my own. He came back to me later, having, he said, spoken with 'The Minister'. The answer was a brick wall; 'no, sorrry'. I was on my own.

Well, not altogether and not for long. I spotted this rather lovely young lady walking along the harbourside road with her two little boys, holding one with each of her hands. I recognised her as the divorcee barmaid in a local pub, The Jolly Roger. Her name was Delia Perry. One day she would be Delia Islip.

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